Random but crucial differences - how context matters

I have been asked recently, quite a few times and quite forcefully at times, why our school does things differently to a school next door or a school up the road.

The simple and honest answer is, always, because we are different.

To illustrate, here are some figures from this week’s ‘school level census’ – a data return for the DfE required periodically of every school.

We have pupils with 28 different first languages, 16% of pupils. Nationally 21% of pupils have English as an additional language,

33 children were eligible for a free school meal on census day – the national average suggests we should have had about 84,

9% of our pupils have SEN provision, against an average of 14.7%,

We had just 1.9% absence last term, against a national average of 14%,

Our average class size is 30 – nationally in Primary Schools it is 27,

Our fixed term exclusion rate, at 0.8 per 100 pupils, is less than the national Primary School average of 1.41 per 100 pupils,

At 478 pupils we are 200 pupils bigger than the Primary School average,

We have more boys than girls in Years 3 and 4 (by 9 and 11 boys), but more girls than boys in Years 5 and 6 (by an incredible 22, and 2, girls).

There are any number of measures that show differences within cohorts and between cohorts, and between schools. We have to operate differently to reflect this and to work with those differences.

With so many EAL pupils we have to maintain a provision, and continue it in ‘lockdown’.

Low FSM eligibility limits our income, and corresponding expenditure, and means we are not as well equipped as the average school.

Low SEND numbers means fewer specialist or experienced staff, lower additional funding and fewer agency visitors.

Next to no absenteeism meant we could help children catch up on lost summer term learning, but also means fewer chances for staff to train for any future remote learning provision.

Larger class sizes put pressure and demand on all areas of provision, and increases workload all round.

Low exclusion rates show how well our children generally behave, and how well systems and staff support them.

Being 200 pupils bigger than ‘average’ shows how far from ‘normal’ we are.

We are interested in the gender data – this can lead to disguised attainment and progress as, typically, girls do better in writing than boys. A class or year group with more girls might be expected to do better in writing, or if boys are falling short it might be covered by those additional girls making good scores.

Schools are different – and their issues and answers will be different.

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